.- A new declaration signed by business and cultural leaders in Chicago voiced support for the U.S. Constitution’s religious freedom protections and emphasized the importance of education and engagement on this fundamental right in the face of current threats.
"In recognizing the unique and indispensable role of religion in our society and in the development of people, we affirm the positive good that religion plays in resisting vice and degradation, and in building virtue and a more noble humanity," the signatories of The Chicago Declaration stated.
Noting that religious freedom is “the indispensable means of ensuring the hopeful vitality of our people and Constitutional Republic,” they warned that “to lose it is to lose the heart of the nation and the Republic itself.”
The declaration grew out of the Reclaiming Religious Liberty Leadership Summit, which took place at Halas Hall in the Chicago area on Oct. 14.
The summit brought together more than 100 city leaders, including business owners, lawyers, media personalities, legislators and clergy members.
Participants of various religious and political backgrounds discussed current threats to religious freedom and signed the declaration to affirm their support for the Constitution at a time when the religious liberty, “at the very heart of our nation, is under attack.”
Prominent signatories included Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Chicago Bears senior director of special projects Patrick McCaskey, along with radio host Dan Proft, Jewish rabbi Philip Lefkowitz and Muslim attorney Asma Uddin.
The declaration acknowledged the need to educate people about the importance of religious freedom and the prominent formative role that it has played throughout American history.
It stressed the importance of engaging Americans through dialogue on the value and meaning of religious liberty and its foundation as a universal right, as well as why it is still relevant today.
The signers said they agree with America’s founders and generations of citizens who understood that religious freedom is an inherent right and a gift from God, who created human nature.
"We declare that the Religious Freedom established in our nation is for all people, all religions, and all faiths," they added, pointing to the openness to all religions that is rooted in natural law and included in the American founding.
"To steward the nation and future generations into a tomorrow of stable and sustained human flourishing, we must honor this heritage personally and publicly," they said.
The signatories warned that throughout the past century, America's "exceptional heritage has been progressively obscured, distorted and undermined, so that today it is increasingly absent in the national culture."
"Our Religious Freedom is under attack and the grave consequences of its increasing diminishment are already evident," they said, expressing opposition to the "movements and ideologies that have attacked our freedoms," particularly the federal contraceptive mandate, which attacks "the very core of our First Amendment rights."
The controversial mandate has been criticized for threatening religious freedom throughout the U.S. It requires employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
The declaration signers called for the repeal of the mandate and pledged to act to "inform and educate those around us" about the importance of conscience rights.
Aware of the urgent threats to religious liberty in America, they called "for all people to take strategic actions to reclaim our destiny as a nation to be a shining example of Religious Freedom."
"In this way, we will be fulfilling our duty to God and thus respecting all those whom He has created," they said.
Organizers of the religious freedom summit are calling for concerned Americans to join their efforts by signing The Chicago Declaration at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/the-chicago-declaration/ and by engaging those around them in informative discussions on religious liberty.